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9 Things Successful People Do When Playing Games

9 Things Successful People Do When Playing Games

Most competitive games require players to use some sort of skill to gain an edge against their opponents. Even games as simple as Go Fish or Rock, Paper, Scissors can be beaten using strategy and planning (in fact, Rock, Paper, Scissors is much more complex than you might think). Players of almost any game in human history can find a way to gain an advantage over their opponent to maximize their chances of winning. Here is how the most successful people get that done.

They project confidence

Before even becoming invested in getting good at a game, players must be confident in their abilities. I know for an absolute fact that I’ll never be a great soccer player; it might be this lack of confidence that keeps me from even trying. But, I’m definitely capable of being a winning chess or poker player, and this confidence has helped me approach both games in such a way that I don’t rely on dumb luck to win. I’ve used this confidence as a springboard to help me get even better at the cerebral games I’ve always had a knack for.

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They understand the rules

Even simple games such as Sorry! have lesser known rules that, if you know them but your opponent does not, can help you win. Using Sorry! as an example, if you pick a seven card, you are allowed to “split” your move between two pieces (one can move three spaces, and another four, for example). While it sounds pretty inconsequential, knowing this rule comes in handy when you know you have to move an exact number of spaces to get a piece into your home base. In a game like football, a defensive player must know the exact difference between a clean block and holding, or else he will never succeed at stopping the blitz without being penalized.

They study strategy

Once you have a true understanding of the rules to the game, you need to understand the strategy behind winning it. Whatever game you are getting into, there are almost unlimited resources online which you can use to your advantage (there is even a strategy to winning Guess Who?, if you can believe it). The best part about learning strategy is that all games are staggered in difficulty depending on your understanding of them. A game like chess is a perfect example. A five-year-old can learn some basic strategy to the game, like how to best protect the king from early attacks, and can use this strategy to beat players who don’t use this strategy. However, as the child grows, he will find the same strategy does not work against more seasoned players, and he will be forced to improve his own strategy in order to continue winning.

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They practice

Along with studying strategy, players must put the strategy into practice. Michael Jordan once (at least once) sunk a free throw with his eyes closed during a game. This wasn’t just something he could magically do; he obviously spent hours upon hours making sure he could make almost every single free throw he ever took. And let’s be serious: practicing free throws for hours on end could not possibly have been fun. But he perfected his shot, and that’s why we consider him the best basketball player of all time. Successful people practice every aspect of their craft until they can literally do it blindfolded.

They exercise

Along with practicing, you must exercise to train in preparation for a game. Exercising doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to the game you are preparing for, but it should strengthen something within you that will help you during play. Weight training, running, or swimming will definitely help you in an athletic event, while completing logic puzzles and problems will help expand your mind before a “mind game.” Keeping your mind and body sharp before a competition allows you to easily maintain an equilibrium, think critically, and adapt to changes in the game.

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They stay positive

The old saying is true: quitters never win, and winners never quit. It should be noted that in that saying, there is nothing about winners never losing. You will definitely face setbacks; there’s no denying that. It’s important to keep your eyes on your goal when you face a loss, or an injury, or any outside factor that inhibits your ability. Winners push past a loss or a disappointment, knowing it’s only a blip on the radar. On the other hand, a loss is not just a blip if it’s what keeps you from playing ever again; it defines you as a loser for the rest of your days.

They follow models

The most successful competitors are inspired by those who came before them. They are not only inspired by them, but are driven by them. Competitors study how their idols perform, and seek not only to emulate them, but to eventually surpass them. They learn what regimens their idols followed and what strategies they utilized, and use this information to maximize their own potential. Not only does studying professionals from the past help the competitor progress, but in doing so, helps the game evolve as well.

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They study past performances

Athletes and competitors not only study others, but themselves as well. Every good athlete studies their past performances to see what they did right, and what they did wrong. The most successful poker players analyze crucial hands that either made or lost a lot of money, to see if there’s any way they can change their play in the future. One of the reasons chess players are so successful is not simply because they’re “good at chess”; they’re good because they’ve spent hours and hours studying past moves, and because of this know exactly what to do when they get into a certain situation. Of course, it’s incredibly important to look at past performances not to beat yourself up, but to keep progressing each time you compete.

They have fun

Pros have fun, too. Why do you think they do what they do for a living? Now, this doesn’t suggest that pros just go out and have a blast; it’s a more controlled type of fun, but it’s fun nonetheless. Professionals talk about getting “in the zone,” going on a hot streak that can’t be beat. Of course, they also go through slumps (baseball players, especially). Something to note is that whenever hitters go into these week-long doldrums, getting maybe one hit every five games, their coaches ultimately tell them to forget about it, stop being so nervous, and just have fun. Usually, taking pressure off of themselves instead of putting more on is what helps them gain their stride back. Even though professionals should take their career seriously, they should always remember to simply enjoy themselves.

Featured photo credit: Racquetball Player Ball Dive Hit Return Play/skeeze via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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